this is "nightline." tonight, a soldier's plea. sergeant bowe bergdahl of course red from the taliban under president obama, called a traitor by then presidential candidate trump. now faces prison after pleading guilty to desertion. but has he already been punished enough? >> i'm just going to die here from sickness. >> in our abc news exclusive interview. plus, play at home dad, the former baseball mega star alex rodriguez taking us inside his home base. his life in the stands, cheering on new girlfriend jennifer lopez. >> the best show i've ever seen. >> no!
really? >> his stories of growing up poor in miami, how his family helped him move on from a major league controversy. and picture perfect, a white house staff photographer getting candid about her years following the first lady michelle obama, and the story behind this famous image. but first here, the "nightline" 5. ♪ ♪
good evening, and we begin here tonight with our abc news exclusive interview with sergeant bowe bergdahl. who spent five years as a captive of the taliban in afghanistan and was called a traitor by then candidate drump. now he could go to prison for the rest of his life. here's abc's chief investigative correspondent brian ross. >> he's garbage. he's a dirty, rotten traitor. >> a no-good rotten traitor. >> reporter: other than hillary clinton, no american has been more attacked or savaged by donald trump than this army sergeant, bowe bergdahl. >> in the old days, when we were strong, you know what happens to bergdahl, bing dong, he's gone. >> reporter: after walking off his post in afghanistan, bergdahl was captured by the taliban for five years.
before being turned over in this dramatic moment. ♪ ♪ >> reporter: today bergdahl at a court-martial hearing pleaded guilty to desertion. he told the military judge, i understand leaving was against the law. i understood. i endangered the safety of my platoon. the army says at least two soldiers were seriously wounded went they searched for bergdahl. tonight he says the words of candidate donald trump, who is now his commander in chief, would have made a fair trial impossible. >> might as well go back to kangaroo courts and lynch mobs. they got what they wanted. the people who want to hang me, you're never gonna convince
those people. >> and it goes quickly, right? it's called, you're dead. >> the people who were to the point of saying, just shoot him. you could never convince those people to change their minds. >> and it hurts? >> it does hurt. >> reporter: bergdahl talking in a small shed where he spends a lot of time, described how he survived his five years in captivity to a british filmmaker who himself was held captive by the same taliban group. >> i mean, you're in survival mode. there really are no rules. just to, you know, when it comes to drinking urine, when it comes to eating food that has been thrown in the dirt that you know is mixed with feces. there's no rules to surviving. >> this is a fox news alert -- >> reporter: and bergdahl scoffs at reports that he was well treated and had actually joined
up with the taliban. >> sergeant bowe bergdahl was said to have declared himself a warrior for islam. >> it's insulting. it's very insulting the idea that they think i did that. >> reporter: in fact, says bergdahl, he twice tried to escape from the taliban compound where he was held somewhere in pakistan. >> it was getting so bad that i was literally looking at myself, looking at my joints, looking at my ribs, i was going, um, i'm just going to die here from sickness, or, you know, i can die escaping. you know, it didn't really matter. >> reporter: he says in one escape attempt, he was on the run for several days before being caught. and then put in a cage like an animal. >> it's a cage that was welded together, about a seven-foot-long, by about six-foot-wide and maybe about six feet by one inch tall.
>> and how long were you in the cage for? >> second, third, fourth, and into the fifth year. >> reporter: the military official who debriefed former u.s. captains said bergdahl was horribly treated and tortured. ngets when they recaptured him and brought him back, they spread eagled and secured him to a metal bed frame. while he was shackled in that position, they took a plastic pipe, i imagine it was like a plumbing pipe, and they started beating his feet and his legs repeatedly with this plastic pipe. later they moved to using a copper cable. the idea was to just beat him and injure his legs and his feet so that he could not walk away again. >> reporter: as all of this was happening, bergdahl's plight was being monitored at the pentagon by the head of the defense intelligence agency. >> i am lieutenant general retired mike flynn.
>> reporter: who became president trump's top national security adviser and is now at the center of the russian investigation, was also interviewed about bergdahl. >> for the first 24 to 72 hours, we were in crisis operations, and we were -- i was personally diverting every single capability, human intelligence wise, to signals intelligence, to unmanned aerial vehicles, to space-based systems. i mean, we really turned on, to find this soldier. >> so you believe, sir, that he did walk off the base, with the intention of meeting the taliban? >> absolutely. absolutely. >> reporter: bergdahl disputes that he ever planned to join the taliban. claiming in the serial podcast that he walked off post in an attempt to report that his platoon commander was a bad leader. >> he was out of control, from what i could see. he was unfit for what he was doing. >> reporter: a military judge found bergdahl's observations about his commander to be
unreasonable and incorrect. whatever bergdahl's reasons for deserting, president obama said, they were not a factor in the u.s. efforts to gain his freedom. >> the united states of america does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind. >> reporter: a team of u.s. special forces carried out the operation in a remote area of pakistan. bergdahl says he was too overcome with emotion to even cry. >> the five years i was dealing with, it was like -- it's a pain that goes beyond anything that -- it's so overwhelming, crying doesn't do anything. it gets stuck. >> reporter: but to gain his freedom, the obama administration agreed to release five taliban prisoners from guantanamo, a decision harshly criticized during the election campaign. >> we get a no-good traitor, and they get the five people that they wanted for years, and those
people are now back on the battlefield, trying to kill us. >> reporter: now that bergdahl has pleaded guilty to desertion, a military judge will decide next week what his punishment should be, including the possibility of prison. bergdahl has his defenders. >> you couldn't ask for a better soldier in captivity than what bowe bergdahl did. he continued to fight the enemy. he continued to resist. he escaped within weeks of his initial capture. he's escaping and trying to get away from them. >> reporter: and some who believe he did act dishonorably still think he's suffered enough, including general flynn. >> i don't think that he should serve another day in any sort of confinement or jail or anything like that. because, frankly, even though he put himself into this situation, we, the united states government, put him in afghanistan. >> reporter: for "nightline," brian ross, abc news, new york.
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good time! >> reporter: it's saturday night, las vegas. ♪ ♪ >> reporter: superstar j.lo sets the stage on fire. and who's watching from the vip section? her boyfriend, alex rodriguez and his 12-year-old daughter natasha. >> hi. >> that was the best show i've ever seen. >> no! >> the best. >> really? >> you were on fire cracker. >> the two announced their relationship this past may and have been paparazzi gold ever since. snapped while on vacation in france, cruising in the car -- >> oh, yes! >> reporter: and all over new york and florida. >> jennifer's an amazing person. she's the hardest working person. she has like ten jobs. >> reporter: she's making you look lazy. >> i think so. >> a thousand people in here every night. >> good show, baby.
>> the man of the hour! >> she loves sports, great athlete, great mother, great daughter, great friend. >> reporter: we know alex rodriguez as the home run hitter on the yankees. >> he's out, a record suspension for alex rodriguez. >> reporter: later involved in a performance-enhancing drugs scandal that rocked the end of his baseball career. >> i did take a banned substance. you know, for that, i'm very sorry, and deeply regretful. >> reporter: now he's in what he calls his second act. analyzing plays on fox sports. >> the size of an nfl tight end, but moves around like a shortstop. >> guest appearing on "shark tank." >> i understand athletes. >> and going all in on his multi million dollar real estate empire, purchasing his own ufc gym and joining abc news as a contributor. >> but his number one dad,
doting dad. at home he's just a regular guy. but outside he'll always be -- >> a-rod! >> what's up? >> this is the best part of retirement. >> reporter: but he isn't too famous to embarrass his daughters. >> what boys? >> i don't know. >> what boys are we talking about? should i go meet all of them? >> i want all them boys to know ho daddy is. >> reporter: he's come a long way from his very humble beginnings in miami. poor, raised by a single mother who inspired him to work hard. >> after school, one of my parents' friends would pick me up and drop me off where my mother was a waitress at. then i go home at midnight with her. i would help her count the tip money and put it under the mattress. this place is very special to me. >> reporter: it was at this boys and girls club that rodriguez learned to play, and it became his ticket out. >> i was a scholarship kid, which meant three things, i had to be a good kid, i had to get
good grades and i had to play pretty good baseball. >> reporter: but it was on this field he became a household name. were there moments that sit heavier than others? >> it's hard not to think about the great times, the great wins, the walkoffs, the fans going crazy. >> reporter: his talent and drive making him unstoppable. >> some play by alex. >> reporter: hitting almost 700 home runs, helping usher his team, the new york yankees -- >> world champions for the 27th time! >> reporter: -- to a world series win in 2009. >> that was the best time of my career. >> reporter: shortly after, things came to a screeching and unforgiving fault. >> yankees slugger alex rodriguez has been suspended. >> 211 regular season games. >> reporter: he was front and center in a major league baseball over the use of performance-enhancing drugs. admitting this to espn in 2014. >> i was young, i was stupid, i
was naive. and i wanted to prove to everyone that, you know, i was worth, you know, being one of the greatest players of all time. and i did -- i did take a banned substance. >> reporter: but that only came after multiple denials, as he did here on "60 minutes." >> have you ever used steroids, human growth hormone or any other performance-enhancing drugs? >> no. >> have you ever been tempted to use any of those things? >> no. >> reporter: would you handle those interviews differently today? >> there's no question about it. i would, sarah. and you know when i look back, there's a lot of things i would have done differently. i look back at some of those interviews and cringe. it's not just about hitting home runs and winning games that matter. it's how you behave in the
clubhouse, how you behave out in the world, what kind of father and role model you are. i think i'll be able to look back at the darkest moments of my life, which were those, and think that it's one of the biggest blessings in my life as i kind of move forward. >> reporter: alex says that it was his family who helped him through. he and his ex-wife of nine years, cynthia skrutis have come a long way from their contentious divorce. >> hi, beautiful. >> the song doesn't stop. >> she looks incredible, right? >> reporter: fresh off the plane from j.lo's vegas show, they spend the day together. >> hi fosh bosh. >> from the beginning, we always put the kids first, so that they would grow and have emotional wellness and not feel a lot of the tugging that you see that happens in families that are divorced. >> reporter: but the kids have some complaints. >> he does a lot of funny things. but they're mostly sometimes
embarrassing. he can't dance or sing for his life, but it's funny when he does. >> reporter: while there have been momentous highs and dark lows in his life, alex says it's made him a better man, father, and role model. >> you know, i think everything happens for a reason. sure there's regrets along the way, but you don't have to be defined by those mistakes. how you come back matters too. >> reporter: for night line, i'm sarah haynes. next, a former white house photographer telling the stories behind her most famous pictures. abc news "nightline" brought to you by dav.
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life for photographer amanda louis don. now sharing the stories behind a collection of intimate images of former first lady michelle obama, in her new book "chasing light." as a photographer, you can spend your whole career chasing light. but for me, the deeper meaning was, working at the white house of a transformative time for me. >> reporter: from humble beginnings, she worked her way up to staff photographer, one of a few women in this role in history. >> i learned from her that you can be anything. >> reporter: for four years, amanda traveled with mrs. obama, capturing photos of the first lady. >> she has such a seriously role, but she has this lightness about her. she loves to laugh. >> didn't the president tweet this photo for valentine's day? >> yeah, which is pretty cool. >> reporter: one of her most widely shared. >> i think that's the importance of having i'm such a perfectionist, i'm like, the picture is kind of messy. and then my editor is like, the
moment. and i'm like, oh, yeah. >> and i believe that's the great wall. >> i love that picture because it shows that being a mother is still her most important priority. >> how are you different from the first day? >> i found confidence. the first lady taught us that the challenges you've encountered in life are actually your strengths. big thanks to berorobinrobin and thanks to you for watching. we're online always at